I have been a huge fan of Stephen King ever since the mid-seventies, when he took the literary world by storm with his first novel, Carrie, about a young girl with awesome telekinetic powers. King has, of course, gone on to write many more fantastic novels. Some have been great, some not so great. Here are my top 5 Stephen King books from the former category:
1. Salem's Lot – Without a doubt, my all time favorite Stephen King book. This spine chilling classic – King's second book after Carrie – about a Dracula-like vampire by the name of Kurt Barlow, who spreads his plague of vampirism through a small Peyton Place-style town just oozes sheer horror and menace from every page. And being a BIG fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula, well, what can I say? Salem's Lot ticks all the right boxes for me. A true horror classic, and my second all time favorite vampire novel after Dracula.
2. The Shining – The ultimate haunted hotel story. King does a brilliant job here in telling the story of Jack Torrance, who carries much emotional baggage with him (triggered by his torturous relationship with his father) as takes up a job as winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, accompanied by his wife Wendy and son Danny. The Overlook is truly the hotel of your worst nightmares, and as all its resident ghosts and malevolent atmosphere begin to manifest into the Torrance's lives, you can really feel the claustrophobic sense of horror that the snowed-in family begins to experience. The Shining is a veritable masterpiece of creepy fiction.
3. Misery – Stephen King really created a terrifying and unforgettable character in Annie Wilkes, the psychotic nurse who holds writer Paul Sheldon prisoner in her secluded cottage after pulling him out of a car accident in which he broke both legs. You can just cut the tension with a knife as Annie, enraged on discovering that Paul has killed off her favorite character, Misery Chastain, forces him to bring her back in a new novel. And nowhere is her insane wrath made more starkly evident than in the notorious hobbling scene. Annie Wilkes really is the crazed fan from hell.
4. Pet Sematary – My favorite back-from-the-dead story. There is certainly a valuable lesson to be learned here for anybody who might harbor wild ideas about attempting to resurrect a deceased pet or loved one: never EVER bury their corpse in an old Indian burial ground. You might be sorry, as the protagonist of this novel, Louis Creed, certainly was in this truly terrifying novel. Loved the movie version too.
5. IT – What could be more horrifying and disturbing than encountering a shapeshifting entity that can take on the form of our worst fear? Well, meet Pennywise, the demonic clown who does just that in King's epic novel of a small town intermittently terrorised by a monster as old as even time itself. IT is a truly fantastic read, and such a huge doorstopper of a novel too. Right from the moment when the evil Pennywise makes his first appearance down in the storm drain and taunts – and eventually kills – poor little Georgie, I was utterly hooked from start to finish. And when I finally finished the book, I enjoyed it so much that I STILL felt like I could go on reading more of it. It really was that good. I especially loved all the little homages to classic horror monsters, like the vampire and the werewolf that King peppered into his story. So if you want to get stuck into IT, my advice is to read the novel and shun the three-hour TV movie, which was nowhere near as good.